This review contains spoilers.
Does Edward IV have a the Confessor/the Terrible-style epithet? If not, he shall henceforth be known as Edward the Pushover, or more charitably, Edward the Forgiver. On the receiving end of his mercy this week were Anne Neville, the daughter of the man who turned coat more often than a Savile Row tailor, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian in York’s clothing.
Peace-seeking Edward’s clemency towards the two women was more likely avarice and pragmatism disguised, making him, what? Edward the Cunning? Little brother George the Smirker was the real villain of course, planning to milk the cash cow of his imprisoned sister-in-law until Richard the looks-so-much-like-Frodo-Baggins-it’s-disorienting did the honourable thing and married her.
It was two weddings and three funerals on The White Queen this week, which was looking handsomer than ever. It’s as if somebody turned down the brightness settings on the fifteenth century over these past couple of episodes, giving us eerie, moody, and regal, rather than the sixty degree wash hygiene of the first half of the series. The tableau that Anne stumbled into of Isabella and her ladies-in-waiting at their embroidery was like something out of a van Eyck, while Lady Margaret’s deathbed meeting with her mother was pure Gothic nastiness. Why the drama waited this long to show us the darkness and depth of the period setting I couldn’t say, but I’m delighted the atmosphere has finally tipped up.
Also late to the party, but no less welcome is a sense of humour. There was a wonderful moment or two of Julia Davis-ish comedy in Lady Margaret and Sir Reginald’s marriage brokering double-act this week. “You may tell him, I have had saints knees since childhood” Margaret told her envoy, who was in search of something besides her enormous fortune to recommend his Lady to future husbands. Between that and her Dr Seuss moment decrying Richard as “as loyal as a hog, as loyal as a dog”, and I was reaching for my petition making-materials to demand a Maggie and Reggie spin-off.
The White Queen is by far at its best on the theme of women being royally gypped by the establishment, and this week’s focus on Anne and Elizabeth’s woes gave it plenty of scope to stage that. “No horse today, Anne”, “Go to your room, Anne” the dowager Princess of Wales was told time and again, coming up against guards and brick walls whenever she attempted to assert any agency. Elizabeth too, had to contend with an unfaithful husband (Edward the Fertile-as-a-bull?), a still-birth, and the removal of her infant son to Wales as another bargaining chip in her husband’s political campaign. Perhaps it says more about me than The White Queen, but I’m much more of a fan of its cynicism than its honeyed romances and clandestine Yew Garden snogging.
Two daughters attended their mother’s deathbeds in the episode – one loving and distraught, the other resentful and elated. Elizabeth said farewell to beloved Jacquetta, who’s worn her last fur gilet and Princess Leia ‘do’, while Margaret stalked off muttering about her divine purpose without forgiving her antagonist ma. The first scene was touchingly written, with Jacquetta’s simple “No-one is ever ready” reply to her daughter’s protestations. Its focus on women’s relationships is another thing to praise The White Queen for; it’s a drama that passes the Bechdel test twice before breakfast.
Where are we left at the end of episode six? Feeling more sympathetic towards Margaret Beaufort, who’d been widowed, screwed over by her mother, separated from her son, rejected by Jasper, and disappointedly unmolested by new hubby Rupert Graves on her wedding night. Newly at court, Margaret and her saints knees are left curtseying to her enemy and biding her time for her incubating holy cause.
As for the Neville sisters, they’d made up and Anne was off to live with a husband who loves her. Queen Elizabeth was looking daggers at pretty young thing Jane Shore (would you come between a witch and her man? Me neither), had lost a son in grimacing childbirth, and now a mother too.
We’ve just four hours now to travel fourteen years from here to the Battle of Bosworth. Let’s hope The White Queen can maintain this gentle upwards trend in quality along the way.